Posts Tagged ‘Mary of Nazareth’

In the U.S. where I live, the second Sunday of May is celebrated as mother’s day. As a girl it became linked in my mind with church celebrations of Mary of Nazareth, mother of Jesus. I was raised Catholic, and while that no longer is my religion, the songs we sang to celebrate Mary powerfully shaped me and my early ideas about faith. I had a deep admiration for Mary’s courage and her sense of purpose. With Mary on my mind, I have been re-reading a couple of books.

978-1-62698-004-4To understand Mary in her cultural context and to explore the impact of her faith on her way of life, I recommend In Quest of the Jewish Mary by Mary Christine Athans. This book does a beautiful job of presenting historical details and guiding readers to imagine a figure of tremendous faith. The story opens with the personal journey of the author, who writes from a Catholic perspective that is full of respect for other faith traditions. This volume will be of interest to readers of any background who enjoy interfaith journeys. I wrote a complete review of Athans’ interesting book when it was published by Orbis Books in 2013.



For a discussion of scholarly studies on the role of Mary in Islam, I recommend Mary the Blessed Virgin of Islam by Aliah Schleifer, former professor at the American University in Cairo. I have met many non-Muslims who are unaware of the importance of Mary in Islam. In Islam Jesus is considered a prophet, and his mother is honored for her deep faith and model of pious living. Her story is told in Chapter 19 of the Qur’an, entitled Maryam.

Do you have a favorite title about Mary? I invite you to share in the comments below.


Disclaimer: The books mentioned here are from my personal library. No fee was received for this review.

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stained glass by William Morris, designed by Edward Burne-Jones (1874)

Today, the first Sunday of Advent, we sang one of my favorite church songs: “Canticle of the Turning” by Rory Cooney, Gary Daigle, and Theresa Donohoo. The words are rooted in the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise where she prophesies the coming of God’s peace and justice (Luke 1:46-55). He has filled the hungry with good things, Mary says, and this song echoes her declaration that “the hungry poor shall weep no more, for the world is about to turn.”

This song never fails to stir my heart, bringing tears to my eyes even as it renews my hope that yes, with God’s help we can use our hands to create a world of justice and peace. May you find inspiration, light, and hope this Advent season.

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Sometimes the best way we can work for peace is to be a witness to another person’s journey. With Jesus was a Migrant, readers have an opportunity to bear witness, as author Deirdre Cornell gives comfort to the grieving and celebrates with the joyful. Deirdre Cornell has been accompanying migrant workers for many years, and I highly recommend her timely book.

By sharing stories of individuals with whom she has caring relationships, Deirdre Cornell provides open windows through which readers can glimpse the struggles of immigrants who have come to the U.S. from Mexico and Central America. These tender stories are rich faith narratives, and Deirdre Cornell draws wisdom from complementary stories in the Bible. From Abraham, who left his father’s land, to the infant Jesus carried by his parents to safety in Egypt, the Bible holds many migration stories.Perhaps most importantly, she highlights the biblical calls to welcome the stranger and to love one another.

In the U.S., the overwhelming majority of people are here because they or their ancestors migrated from elsewhere. Sharing her own family experience, Deirdre Cornell emphasizes the importance of remembering where we came from and why we left our homelands. These root stories can help develop empathy in those who have been in the U.S. for many generations. We also benefit from travel abroad, where we ourselves have the experience of being strangers and newcomers.

Why do people come to the U.S.? What are their lives like once they arrive? By compassionately sharing stories we might not otherwise hear, Deirdre Cornell awakens hearts with a fresh perspective. After reading Jesus was a Migrant, one cannot see immigration as just another issue that needs tackling. Rather, it is a topic that involves the precious lives of fellow human beings in need.

As people of faith, how should we respond to immigrants in our communities? What should we require of government policy makers? With a humanitarian crisis presently underway at the southern border, these questions become matters of life and death.

Matt 25 35With Jesus was a Migrant, Orbis Books once again gives readers a heart-challenging read that radiates with truth, written with a compassionate eye. I encourage you to read Jesus was a Migrant, perhaps with a book club or Sunday school class where you can share a lively discussion. I pray that your heart will be touched, and you might be inspired to act on behalf of migrants who are struggling to create a peaceful future.

Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. No fee was received.

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Theologian Mary Christine Athans, BVM, has written a compelling book that offers a fresh understanding of Mary of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus. The result of scholarship and personal reflection, In Quest of the Jewish Mary: The mother of Jesus in history, theology, and spirituality makes a worthwhile read.

The book opens with a helpful discussion of the role of Mary in the Catholic Church and the changing view of Mary throughout church history, including the feminist theology of more recent years. Athans then draws attention to the valuable contributions made by scholars studying the historical Jesus, and the helpful insights this research can provide for our understanding of Mary. As Jesus was growing up, his primary religion teacher would have been his mother, a faithful Jewish woman teaching her son how to pray and to seek God. Understanding how the Jewish faith was observed in daily life amplifies the picture we have of Mary and her son.

I appreciated the tools Athans provides for envisioning Mary’s life as a first-century Palestinian woman of faith. Along with her biblical scholarship, Athans shares stories of her own appreciation of Jewish customs and rituals. Her voice has the potential to build bridges of understanding between faith traditions.

The author brings together and makes accessible an incredible amount of research, providing a rich bibliography for readers who are compelled to read more on the topic. I made copious notes on index cards for future reading. Orbis Books once again has done readers a service by making contemporary theological scholarship readily available to readers who seek to deepen knowledge of their faith.

Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. No fee was received.

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The Annunciation by Fra Angelico

During these past weeks of Advent, I have been taking quiet time, preparing myself inwardly for a new year. I have been reading the Bible passages related to the coming birth of Jesus, and asking God to show me what these stories might mean for my life.  Always, I come back to Mary.

When the angel came with a message from God, Mary responded with deep trust and profound courage. I long to be able to say, “Here I am, God, your servant,” without holding back. I don’t want to respond with I can’t…or what if… My prayer is for willingness to serve and to expect that God’s vision is much greater than ours. Mary had a glimpse of this, and she declares her faith in God’s justice with the magnificat.

In this new year, may God work in all of us so that we might declare, with Mary, “my soul magnifies the Lord.” If we each listen for God’s voice, and help lift up those who have a rockier path than our own, we can be instruments of God’s love. As I feel this longing building in my heart, I have been reflecting on an Advent prayer  written by Priyanka Bagh. May it be a blessing to you, and may you be a blessing to others.

Advent Prayer
By Priyanka Bagh, India

I pray
that our desire and passion
will be to serve God,
to give our best—
the core of our being
and our potential—
to be used by God,
that we may be fully equipped and trained
to work hard and excel as
the finest instruments of God.

My heart yearns
for us to be
what God called us to be—
to reach out and be
a source of blessing to others;
for women to rise up
and make a difference,
supporting one another,
so that we can grow
towards the fulfillment
of the calling
that God has for us. Amen.

prayer © Priyanka Bagh. The author wrote this prayer as a thank you to the women who provide scholarships through Mennonite Women USA. You can read about the work of Mennonite Women USA, including their international Women’s Fund, on their website.

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In A Lineage of Grace, Francine Rivers carries the reader to biblical times, bringing to vivid life several women whose deep faith holds lessons for modern readers. This volume draws together five novellas, and tells the stories of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.

Each woman’s story is told through a mix of details from the Bible and socio-historical information about the time period in which she lived. The customs and mores of the ancient world provide critical background. When reading these stories, I was palpably aware that these five women all lived in a patriarchal society during violent times. There were moments in the stories when a woman’s vulnerability, or a man’s abuse of power, made reading very difficult. However, the emotions that a woman feels, no matter when or where she lives, are universal. Through the emotional life of these historical figures, and the hardships they endure and overcome, Rivers has provided strong examples for inspiration along the journey of faith.

In the story of Tamar, we meet the daughter-in-law of Judah, one of the sons of Jacob. Her story appears in Genesis 38 as a fairly matter-of-fact sequence of events, and she is portrayed in a negative light as a seductress. Through the pen of Rivers, the conditions of life endured by Tamar become very vivid. Widowed before she had a child, the customs of the day could result in her living as a beggar or prostitute. Considered a failure by her own father, she was unwelcome in her childhood home. Her father-in-law behaved unethically and did not practice his religion; Tamar asks him repeatedly, “When will you do what is right?” Her courage and faithfulness astonished me. Under great duress, she held to her faith and determined to do what was right. I came to love and admire Tamar by the end of the story, even as I marveled at her choices.

For me, living in the relative comfort of a loving home in North America, the fruits of Tamar’s story were the spiritual lessons.  However, the story also caused me to reflect on the plight of women living in very difficult circumstances—enduring domestic violence, sexual assault, forced marriage. These conditions, so pervasive in biblical times, are still the reality for many women today. One way to honor their struggles is to what we are able to transform injustice.

Unlike Tamar, Ruth has a whole book in the Bible to tell her story. Yet that book is a mere four pages long—eight columns of text. Rivers makes the story of Ruth more vivid by providing historical context and showing the reader the longings of Ruth’s heart. For me, the most familiar portion of this story is when the recently-widowed Ruth says to Naomi, her mother-in-law, “For wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” (Ruth 16)

The magnitude of these words had not sunk in before I read this novella. Ruth left behind the land and family of her birth, and made a dangerous journey; she chose poverty and the unknown, confident that God would look after her and Naomi. I tried to imagine myself in Ruth’s place as I read the vivid descriptions of  her inner struggles.

Rahab’s story was one of my favorites.  While the author of the book of Joshua primarily provides battle details of the fall of Jericho, Rivers focuses on the deep faith of this Canaanite woman who helped the Israelites. Although she did not grow up with faith in one God, as an adult God spoke to her heart. Rahab says, “I know this is God the only God, and I’ve chosen to put my faith and hope in Him.”  The Israelite soldier who becomes her husband notes that “God could write his name upon the heart of anyone he chose.”

I have to admit, Bathsheba’s story was very difficult for me to read, as it told so much of the corruption in the palace of David.  I wanted to think of David as the psalm-writer, not as a person who would take another man’s wife, endangering her life. However, here, too, there were many lessons, as when David wondered, “How was it possible to love God so much and be captured so completely by sin?”

In the story of Mary, it was interesting to read so many familiar Gospel stories intertwined with a tale of family life. As Jesus struggled with the demands of his calling, his mother had to see him suffer. This experience, the hardship of seeing a child in pain, is something with which any mother can identify. I appreciated the development of Joseph as a strong, supportive husband and father, as well.

At the end of each novella is a six-part Bible study section, Seek and Find, prepared by Peggy Lynch. This includes passages from the Bible, questions to reflect on the novella and the scripture selections, and ways to apply the lessons in one’s own life. I found the suggested questions to be thought-provoking and helpful tools for personal reflection. This book would be an excellent choice for a book club or study group.

While addressed to a Christian readership, these stories could inspire women of  all three Abrahamic faiths, and would be of interest to anyone who enjoys stories set in the ancient world. I highly recommend it, and look forward to exploring more of the work of Francine Rivers.

Published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2009.

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